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Full text of "Manhattan pastures"

Volume 59 of the Yale Series of Younger Poets, 
edited by Dudley Fitts and published with aid from 
the Mary Cady Tew Memorial Fund. 



Manhattan Pastures 



SANDRA HOCHMAN 



Foreword by Dudley Fitts 



NEW HAVEN AND LONDON 



Yale University Press, ig6j 



Copyright © 1963 by Yale University. 

Designed by John O. C. McCrillis, 

set in Aldine Bembo type, 

and printed in the United States of America by 

The Carl Purington Rollins Printing-Omce of 

the Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut. 

All rights reserved. This book may not be 

reproduced, in whole or in part, in any form 

(except by reviewers for the public press), 

without written permission from the publishers. 

Library of Congress catalog card number: 63-7586 



Acknowledgment is made to the following publications 

for poems which originally appeared in them: 

New World Writing — "Silence" 

Quarterly Review of Literature — "Various Songs of Roland' 

(reworked as "Thoughtsof a Master-Pupil") 
Audience — "Visions — Avenue C" 
The Nation — "Love-fast" 
Antioch Review — "Adam" 







In Memory of Rose Schumer 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 



http://archive.org/details/manhattanpasturOOhoch 



Foreword 



'With a Foreword,' says the Rubric, 'by the Editor/ And in- 
deed there seems to be no considerable reason other than this 
liturgical one for an editorial prelude to the work of a new 
young poet. Looking back over my own exercises in this 
genre, and those of my predecessors, I am perplexed by a 
certain ambiguity of intention. Who is being served by the 
Foreword? The poet? Not really; he is his own best intro- 
duction, in his poems. The critic, then, or the ephemeral re- 
viewer? One would not presume to think so. The general 
audience, whatever that may be? Possibly, though audiences 
happily have a way of neglecting Forewords; and in any event 
they would do better to begin with the poems. Yet ritual 
decorum must be observed, if for no other reason than that 
of custom, and the celebrant may at least combine invitation 
with his ceremony and so account in part for his personal 
intervention. I should like to discuss, very briefly and un- 
critically, what it was in Sandra Hochman's verse that per- 
suaded me to choose it for this Series. 

I liked its freshness, its generous delight in physical things, 
in textures and colors and odors, in the whole young ex- 
perience of being alive. I liked the way in which a wealth of 
disparate objects was particularized and displayed, sometimes 
to be enjoyed for themselves alone, more often charged with 
a symbolic value. Thus the immediacy of contact in 

the water 
That flows down me, and to me, and from me, 
Marl, turf, red earth, barbed root 

which arrives at the queerly evocative stasis of the verses that 
first attracted me to Miss Hochman's work: 

Surely the Khan of Tartary once dwelt 
Beneath a tent of felt. O tent of felt! 



FOREWORD 

Granted, quotation is not criticism; and for that matter, I am 
not sure what criticism could do with this couplet. The Khan 
of Tartary? Where did he come from? Not from Tartary, it 
would seem, but from Dante: at any rate, the title of the poem, 
'Feltro e Feltro,' refers us to the first Canto of Inferno; but 
there the only Khan is Can Grande, and he is adducible only 
as an allusion, a possibility in a footnote. Miss Hochman's 
Khan, whoever he may be and whatever his provenience, 
most romantically resists explication; yet he is exactly right 
in being where and what he is in the poem, a barbaric aloof 
personification of physical freedom. The composition is cal- 
culated — coldly, I think, and with considerable audacity — , 
but I do not care about recovering the calculation. It is sub- 
merged in the odd grace of the poem, transcending footnotes. 
I liked the ingenuousness of this writing at its best, a kind 
of urban-pastoral innocence. The intuitive, instinctual ele- 
ment in Miss Hochman's city eclogues is very strong, though 
it is almost always controlled, subservient to 'an ordering 
awareness. When it gets out of hand, as it infrequently does, 
the writing moves not so much in the direction of incoherence 
and obfuscation as towards a bemused picking up and putting 
down of more or less decorative objects, a dreamy catalogue 
in recitativo. Yet even this can be winning; and there are 
moments when overt rhetoric is persuasive against all ex- 
pectation: 

Angel of meridian, 
Time out of the past, 
Lady fingers, broken strings, 

Unmade kisses in unmade bedrooms, unheld hands in 
Unkept closets, unsaid words to unknown lovers, unknown 
Movies in unknown dreams. 

Soft, fluid, but incantatory again, and this time with no help 
from Tartary. The iteration and the paradoxes, the homeli- 



FOREWORD 



ness of the symbols, the very movement of the verse — these 
are all conscious, controlled, aware. Individually the elements 
may be personal eidola, and I suspect that often we cannot 
participate in the entirety of their emotional meaning; but 
there is nothing in the least ghostlike or specious in the art 
that deploys them to bring about so substantial an evocation 
of pleasure and guilt, of the loss and recovery of delight. The 
measure handsomely reflects the mood, most successfully, 
perhaps, in the elegiac dying-away: 

Lovers, when at last from sweet content 
You are caught in dreaming argument, 
You will drowse in grass 
Under the sea where swans are bound at last, 
Lovingly, lovingly. 

But the amorous-melancholy is not the only vein, nor does 
Miss Hochman's unusual concern for muted effects divert her 
from the sharper issues. There is a sensible harsh wit at work 
here, too, and a comedic impulse that knows exactly the right 
way to bring the lyric back to earth. O tent of felt ! 

I find that I have been saying, with a repetitiousness that is 
perhaps not inappropriate in a baroque prelude, that I was 
first attracted to these poems by their honesty and by the visual 
and tactile quality of the writing. I do not mean to suggest 
that these are their only virtues, but they will serve as points 
of departure. And surely they are refreshing. No one sub- 
jected to new poetry in bulk, so to speak, can be unfamiliar 
with the for-print-only character of so much of it: the new 
formalism, with its ingenious metrical complexities that work 
only on paper; the post-beatnik ejaculations, sprawling or 
chopped, celebrating the self-adoration of ignorance; and, of 
course, the great welter of beauty- verse still, and for ever, 
entranced by the worst magic of the Georgians. But in Miss 
Hochman's work I find something more than a relief, grate- 



FOREWORD 

ful as that may be. An uncommon plainness, a willingness to 
take risks, a power to invest the ordinary with the strange, 
an amused (and amusing) control of the delicate forces of 
diction and of rhythm — these are what decided me, and they 
make up the sum of my accounting. 

Dudley Fitts 



Contents 



Foreword by Dudley Fitts 



Ivory and Horn 




In the Flame 


i 


Inferno 


2 


Feltro e Feltro 


3 


Ivory and Horn 


4 


Manhattan Pastures 




Manhattan Pastures 


13 


Hansoms 


H 


Constructions: Upper East Side 


16 


Living with Vermin 


18 


Lower East Side in the Alps 


19 


Manhattan General Hospital 


20 


Objects 


22 


Divorce 


23 


Visions — Avenue C 


24 


The Learned Society 


25 


Clay and Water 


26 


Silence 


27 


The Mammal in Captivity 


28 


Riverside Drive 


30 


Farewell to the Federal Reserve Bank 


32 


Cannon Hill 


34 


Mosaics 




Sphinxes 


37 


The Eyes of Flesh 


38 


Archipelago 


40 


Two Songs for Impossible People 


42 


The Paris Acropolis 


44 



CONTENTS 




Adam 


46 


This Black Knight 


47 


Once There Was a Venetian Blind 


48 


Thoughts of a Master-Pupil 


50 


Love-fast 


52 


Love-fast II 


53 


David 


54 


Grief 


55 


The Diamond Needle 


56 


Divers 


58 


The Death of Joan 


59 


Elegies of a Virgin 


60 


I Live with Solomon 


62 


Mosaics 


63 


Eros and Her Brother 


64 


The Hairbrush 


66 



IVORY AND HORN 



IN THE FLAME 



About blood, I've my right hand in the sun. I burn 

My hair, my name, 

O, I have my God-hand at last in the fiery flame. 

I enter light ! (I have put on 

The tennis sneakers of swift martyrdom) and 

Run past palaces and pensiones, 

Past lost hotels, public Italian Johns, 

Past the limp bodies of Acheron. 

I never wanted to attract 

Quick pinches of maniacs, 

Selfish hands of flesh-mongers and quacks, 

The selfish ones (always the ego cracks!), 

I will go whoring with the Zodiac 

And ride beyond 

Deodorants, clean pillows and quilts, 

The shared bath towel, the box of cleaning salts. 

(This is not the heart of love that feasts 

On someone's marriage sheets.) 

Though flesh has held me with its feather fingers, I am gone. 

Now I have my right hand in the sun. 



INFERNO 



Hell's a place 

Where lover and beloved 

Lip to lip face each other's crime. The man across my quilt 

Turns quietly. I read of guilt, 

I know guilt is a lie. 

I dive 

Into the water-bed of Charon, 

Limbo dissolves my breath, Paolo and Francesca spin 

Over my bed to comfort me. 

When I turn against a night of restless 

Sleep, my book and my beloved fall upon 

The wind-stained willows of Acheron. 



FELTRO E FELTRO 

for Howard Nemerov 



I have grown tired of the water-tap, 

The bowing maids, the telephone messages, the crap. 

From now on I will praise the water 

That flows down me, and to me, and from me. 

Marl, turf, red earth, barbed root 

Are mint and sacrament. 

Here is the household of the apple grass. 

I know the kingdoms of the earth. 

And I know the moon. One snowy owl 

Jogs down from Canada. 

Surely the Khan of Tartary once dwelt 

Beneath a tent of felt. O tent of felt! 



IVORY AND HORN 



I am locked in the kitchen, let me out. 

Burning in the toaster, 

Sizzling in the pan, 

Choked in the gas range, 

Iced in the kitchen glass, 

Broken in the bowl, 

I jump out of the cup. 

Throw dish rags over my anger, 

Crumbs over my head, anoint 

Me for the marriage bed. 

The bride is buttered, eaten when she's charred. 

Her tiger falls into a tub of lard. 



II. 



Under a green comforter, 
Waiting for love, 
The heart of the city breaks 
In my pillow, and down 
The streets parade the cats 
With wedding tails 
And great plumed hats. 



III. 



Underneath the city- 
There is this: paws of a tiger. 
For I have seen true dreams 
Are white nights lit by black neon lamps. 
I have seen the stripes 
Of* true and un-true dreams: 
There are two gates of sleep; one of Horn 
For true visions, 

The other, shining, of white Ivory, 
Through which ghosts 
Send false dreams. 

The bridegroom by himself is slain. Ivory 
To Horn is chained. 



IV. 



I saw a kitten with a tiger's head 

Chewing up nine lives. Dead 

Sperm lice clinging to his catty snout, 

He crawled back to the bag that let him out. 

When you find the Tiger, kill him! they said. 

I could not sleep. I walked about 

New York and looked for him. 

In the day time on the park's green lip I stood, 

Blood in my mouth flowing like a stream of angry water. 

Armed, at night, I ferried the East River, 

And pounded on his door. The doorman came, 

A blue Hon tamer shooing off his game. 



Snow was falling the first day we walked 

Along the river's edge. Rocks 

Looking toward Welfare Island seemed a gift 

Dropped out of a New England sailing ship. 

Gulls followed us in the smoke undertow; 

And eye for eye and tooth for tooth and eye for eye 

My bridegroom slapped against the river's edge. The 

Mayor's house was made of gingerbread. 

I could not fmd the straight path out. 



VI. 



In Harlem 

We climbed the movie steps 

That led us to a market place of dance. 

We watched a dark brown woman shake in two. 

I am well, I move my arms, she said, 

Never-never dreams wake up the dead. 

At the Palladium 

Dancing was praising. 

Olive ladies 

Moved their mattress bodies from the bed 

And feather-danced their boys. 

Over the wooden dance floor fell 

A thousand moving pennies. Catch them all! 

Swaying up and down, 

No bodies touched, but all bobbed up and down 

Jib-shaped and out of water. 

I heard the prancing paws of the greased tiger. 



VII. 



We crossed Brooklyn Bridge. 

In Brooklyn Heights 

I heard the sacrament: You said you meant- 

You said you meant — 

Scaled the ice mountains. The 

Tiger-eye was strange. I heard claws 

Beating in the Stock Exchange. 



VIII. 



In the animal hospital: 

Jaws of frightened animals. I looked at them, 

Afraid to see the hairy cats completely shaved. 



IX. 



Near the tiger's bed, my eyes could see 
Lovers dancing ceremoniously. 
Gracefully, along the corridor, 
Geese in slippers danced the varnished floor 
Lovingly, lovingly. 

On the white pallor of varnishing, 
Lady-birds and clock-o-clays could sing. 
Bees spun music on the chrome 
Of a basin's sun waxed honeycomb 
And jaguars pranced. A chittering toad 
Sang to the blue eyes of a hog, 
Lovingly. 

Lovers, when at last from sweet content 
You are caught in dreaming argument, 
You will drowse in gr^ss 
Under the sea where swans are bound at last, 
Lovingly, lovingly. 



X. 



I would like back my jungle gifts, as I now 
Understand they were given on the basis of being 
Deceived. These gifts are: 

One white Mexican bird of peace, 

One silver and glass treasure-box, 

A golden ring, 

My kaleidoscope, 

One Japanese pen, 

One Japanese ink grinder, 

One Japanese scroll, 

One small fan, 

One book about the life of Mozart, 

One red velvet crying pillow, 

One picked-through book of Mallarme, 

One straw angel, 

Two geraniums, 

Two pink table cloths, 

One white linen napkin, 

Two small candle holders with peacocks on them, 

Sugar-tongs, 

A blue holy book for the Holidays. 

That is all that is necessary for me to say to you 
At the present moment. I hope you enjoy tearing 
My white nightgown and my white toothbrush. 



XI. 



I woke and sucked my thumb. My room 

Had melted into stones. 

Bookcases filled with books were filled with stones. 

The dresser drawer was saddled with a stone. 

The telephone, all numbers, was a stone. 

Uneven stones, inviting all contours, 

Were varnished on my pillow. 

Stones in the mirror. Cinnabar and stone. 

You will find that I am 

Ready for lapidation. I wept 

And heard the bridegroom call my name. 



XII. 



Then Angel Lucifer walked the wall 
Past the living-room and down the halls 
Into my bedroom. He rocked 
Me to his fables. 

I laid me down to sleep and blurred 
My eyes upon his cackling bird. We flew 
Into the underworld. My arms 
Stuck to his bird's crest, fingers curled 
Around his wings. And I was borne 
Over the gates of Ivory and Horn. 



MANHATTAN PASTURES 



MANHATTAN PASTURES 



On our wedding day we climbed the top 

Of Mount Carmel. To keep our promises 

We lay down in maize. 

Who can tell us how to lead our lives? 

Now in Manhattan's pastures I hear 

Long processions of the compact cars 

Nuzzling their gasoline. 

The day is springtime. Have I come too late 

To hear the Zen Professor speak of peace? — 

One thing is as good as another, he says, and eats 

Salad, wheat germ, and all natural foods. 

Voices out of records: terrible sounds. 
Wagner's music is a tongue. 
My radio announces man in space. This 
Was once my city. Who will tell us 
How to lead our lives? 

Eichmann stalls in the judicial stables. 
His children saddle him to a black horse 
Motoring through six million beds of grass. 
He wears a light-wool suit tailored for summer. 
The doctors say that we are doing well. We shall 
Be cured of childhood if we keep 
Counting our nightmares in the fields of sleep. 
I shear black cars and records in my sleep. 

Eichmann drops as man is shot in space 

Out of a pop-gun. In our universe 

A lonely husband needs a hundred wives. Who 

Can tell us how to lead our lives? 

13 



HANSOMS 



Never tame, those 

Honey-speckled horses 

That troupe through the streets of Manhattan 

Prancing with jute saddles 

Carrying dancers and opera bassos. 

They lugged newspapers and dolls 

To sad warehouses, 

Clopped through the alleys of Broadway, 

(Eyes riveted on neon meathooks) 

They trotted to Harlem. 

And met up with cab-drivers, blonde vegetable 

Horses, and cornices, and veiled ponies 

Adorned for the weddings of plazas. Then they ran 

From the exile of parks 

Past dummies, clothes-hooks, and pelts, 

Trotting down Fifth Avenue 

To the sea. They 

Galloped on boats 
Rode on the spokes of the tides, 
Rode on Venetian gondolas, 
Stayed close to the lotus sterns, 
Rolled on cedarwood ships, 
Returning from Thebes, 
Galloped on Jason's glittering boat 
Carved from the branch of Dodona, 



14 



They joined the oarsmen 

Close to the axis, and sailed 

With groups in the galley, sailed 

Viking-ships beneath sea-masks, 

Faced bulwarks and rowing benches, 

Stamped hooves through gold bolts of damask. And cried 

With their great yellow teeth while 

Lateen sails swelled. They bit 

The Roman merchants, traveled with dead-eyes, 

Rammed against bulkheads. 

They rode on the Great Harry 

While leather shields were displayed, 

Rode hulks and caravels, set their hinds 

Against bowsprits. From Portugal 

They set sail on the Galleon. They rode 

On the Voyage Armada, froze on merchant's ships, 

On flutes, on. seventy-four gun ships, on luggers, 

Bugalets, frigates, feluccas, and barques. 

They leapt through their dreams on tartanes, burned 

On xebecs and sai'ques, 

Exiled on brigs, snows, brigantines until 

Tamed by the sea, they came home. 

Never broken. But they came home, 

Home to the winter, home to saddle and crop, 

Blanket, stall, and the whips 

Of lovesick riders 

Who drove them around and around 

Central Park for a view of swans. 



15 



constructions: upper east side 



Wreckers 

Drilling and breaking rock 

As if New York were one great tooth 

Rotten but smiling. 

Gloria sits in her studio drilling and breaking boxes. 

She is not setting foundations; she is making horses 

Talk. She is dis-embalming dolls. 

In Manhattan everything is being torn from rock. 

Our buildings break. Even the ball, 

The gong-ball destroying our buildings, 

Breaks. Even tools 

Built for destruction break. 

Outside my window wreckers 

Trapped in constructions: blond 

And black men under helmets of steel, caught in earth. . 

Killing earth. The earth is taken somewhere else. 

Where does all the earth go? 

Wreckers in uniforms of mesh ride 

Jackhammers and dust-machin*s, gripping 

Torches of fire. They are precise. Sea shells, 

The Freach horn, animal and vegetable are streamlined. 



16 



Drills, 

The drills sound in my head. I toss words 

Back at them. I throw them down as part 

Of a new foundation. 

I hang words over glass. 

Who will escape 
This tyranny of the T square? 
Gloria, commissioned by 
No-one, sets up her broken dolls. 

Riding past mirrors and new office buildings, 

She tries to construct 

A small tower out of ivory and horn. 

Dreams are nails. Her daydreams ring 

On linoleum. Here, the man 

Who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, and went insane, 

Grabs back his bomb again. 

She's shrinking the jowl and the paunch of Diamond Jim Brady 

To clean lines. 

Glass is broken. 



17 



LIVING WITH VERMIN 



Silverfish 

Cling to each other. 

Poets do not dare 

Cart-wheel paths to the bedroom. 

They crawl on the bathroom tile-ways 

Where it is safe. 

Their heritage will, no doubt, interest 
Scholars and scientists, 
Although it hardly interests my 
Human foot. Which is what 
They are afraid of: 

They see it coming 
And they crawl, scurrying 
From a painted toenail. 

Put them out of your night-mind, 

But they keep circling patterns of the tile: 

While you are warm in silent-movie dreams, 

Artfully they enjoy the bathroom 

Mistaking sinks and bathtubs 

For sculpture. Slowly, they plumb 

Your solar system. 

Silver and black, their heads 

Are camouflaged. But this is their protection: 

They are more bashful than rodents. 

Less beautiful than bedbugs. 

Manhattan's 

Small beasts, engendered 

In corruption, 

Fear for their lives. 



18 



LOWER EAST SIDE IN THE ALPS 



Lower East 

Side, Tower of Babel, pushcarts, 

Temple of last year's newspapers covering 

The world in shelters of odor, 

Lost house, uncurled palace of broom — 

Hair wrapped in curlers and braids, 

It is you he feels in this gallery 

Where plates hang sterilized, lobotomized 

On fresh burlap walls, where penciled lines 

Of human faces suffer under glass. It is you, 

Tent of string and wash flapping towards 

The east of Russia, the west of Vienna, he fears 

Bobbing through the ice alps on a train, half insane 

To reach the nowhere. 

Beautiful dirt streets, 
It is you he walked through in the drawing rooms 
Of Paris, where delicate quartets 
Played songs of no real Solomon. It is you 
He was seeking in the coffins of Greek Islands 
(Where everyone sought you), but found 
Only red tomatoes walking out of a shoebox. In 
The swallowed streets of Chios, 
It was you he wanted. It was you in the drugged cafes, 
In choked hotels, in mosques, in seas, in the yellow 
Peeling bedspreads. 

Filth streets, bread-spinning springs of our fathers, 
We will sleep in you for ever. 



19 



MANHATTAN GENERAL HOSPITAL 



The Lord is my hospital. 

Birth — in silence. Odd that I should fear 

Green sheets and pillows everywhere. 

An eyeless needle made me drink 

Sacred rabbit's milk. Unsewn, 

I sprang out of the family wound. 

Grew and grew. 

Once, in my girlhood, a fat man said 

(His voice was wiped, his eyes were glass), 

Please inspect the chloroform and 

Winding sheets where we are born. Here in the clinic, 

Parades a line-up of the dead. 

Leather bells and hershey bars 

Are, each day, so regular, 

Here in the clinic, here, he said, 

The dumb procession of the mad. 

— odd that I should say 
Not here! As if his hospital 
Was made of veins, not stones 
And earth and common beams. 



20 



II. 



III. 



Beastly Babel of sleeping pills — 
You, cast-iron men, 
Make cathedrals out of hospitals. 
Your women have made you will 
Open skulls, lost genitals, 
Broken spines, coated tongues — 
Hell is all pillows. 



In the clinic: 

When I was born airplanes 
Above Manhattan General wrote 
Injury and Injured in the sky. 

Kingdom of bassinettes and bed, to 
The faithless I say Be horn and die. 
And I returned, 
Scared as a rabbit. 



21 



OBJECTS 

for Denise Levertov 

Snake-dancing down Greenwich Street, I'm aware of my shoes. 
Every object stares, stares at itself like an eye 
For sale. The Christmas Eye and the Hardware Eye 
And the God Eye, all spill 
Their pine needles threaded with snow, 
Their figs and halavah immodestly covering each other, 
Ropes and nails, 

Yes, and the Vegetable Eye, lusty as an apple, 
And the threaded eye of crosses. 
Blinking at them all, I weep for the good eye ! 
Objects frighten me. 

Were it not for 

These reptile shoes 

That I follow— 

Shoes pulling toward sewer fans, 

Were it not for these reptile shoes 

Hissing in front of me 

Near the river front, breasted with fish, 

I would not be dancing down Greenwich Street. 

But I've come back 

In black leather boots. (I remember seeing 

Russian dancers at the Metropolitan 

Clicking heels. I said to Arthur, 

For all I know of God 

He may be two tiny red leather hoots clicking 

One against the other.) 

I'm walking down Greenwich street, lifted 

Over water-wheel gutters by "my toes. 

Joy is in this street. As for the sage, 

He stands without his shoes. 



22 



DIVORCE 



New York. Men are like cars, Dolores 
Turned on her bar-stool precariously 
In Dylan's Bar, When one goes by . . . 
Her finger pointed to the right 
Directly parallel to her right shoulder, 
As if to signal a dangerous turn, 
Another comes along. 

STOP. 

Locate her listener in a 

Crash. White-walled wheels are torn. 

Fenders smacked. Front lights and tail lights 

Burn. The motor's on fire 

As we signal Help us! Let us out! 

Help. The white Ford 
Consul's gone. 

CURVE. 

Locate the driver. She wakes up 

In a grease-papered hotel. 

Hotel de Londres. turn. Alex 

Gland, painter and ski champion (he says) 

Once a mechanic in a Swiss garage 

Now a meter-man, moves, white, nude, next to her, charges 

In chug tones, Women should not cry. She signals 

From her car- wrecked lips and lies: Look. I'm not 

Crying and I never cry. Men are like cars. When 

One goes by . . . 

— Like cars? Like Cadillacs? — 

Another comes. No, that's not true, Alex. 

You are like birds. 

23 



VISIONS — AVENUE C 



Where Puerto Ricans 

Squash seeds with ripe feet 

And baby Hebrews dance to school, 

Their curls 

Dangling from manly suede hats, 

I heard a voice 

Singing clearly to me: Don't 

Speak with men but with angels. 

I dreamt of my dead grandfather 
Who once hved on St. Mark's Place. 
For a nickel he would minstrel 
In the parks, or jostle hot dogs 
On a wooden cart, not dreaming 
That his sons could make a million. 

My other grandfather plumbed most of Brooklyn. 
He gave up plumbing for Show 
Business. All the Broadway flops 
Were hauled off in his trucks — 

How can I bear to dig this warehouse up? 

From now on 

As I dog-step through 

My city, I'll 

speak 
Not to men but to angels. 



24 



THE LEARNED SOCIETY 



We sing for the dead 

Employed by The Learned Society. 

The clerk files heart under the envelope 

Meant for eyes, the bookkeeper enters 

Human hair in her column of numbers, 

The public relations expert exploits 

Brains, the secretary types souls 

On white slabs of paper as the office 

Boy feeds tubes to the copystat 

And receives from his machine a collection 

Of teeth. "Do you know 

There's a dentist who claims the history 

Of civilization is the history of human teeth 

And all we know of ancient man 

Comes right out of his jaw?" HO. HO. HAW. 

HAW. Once I sang for the dead 

At The Learned Society. I wailed 

"Good Morning' in the human phone 

With a singing voice less human, 

As the president, 

And his well-known assistant, 

Called a meeting and gave grants 

To lunatics and lunar assistants. 



25 



CLAY AND WATER 



In my father's brickyard 

I saw walls of brick around me. Bricks 

Bricks, so bright they were, 

One piled upon the other 

Like small red suitcases left in the Gare St. Lazare. 

I stood in my father's brickyard 

And I wondered where I came from, or if 

There was something I could ask him, 

Something that we would not stumble on. 

— Climbed to my father's office 

Covered with white dust, there were files, 

And a desk — and there ! My father, curious 

As I to know why I had come. 

Then I asked him, Tell me about bricks, 

Thinking that he certainly 

Had something about bricks to tell me. 

What is there to telh — About bricks, 

I insisted, about their names. 

He looked through 

Papers on his desk, all disarranged, 

And asked Mr. Bard, his partner, who 

Didn't know; and finding nothing to tell, 

He said, Bricks come from clay and water. 

They come from water and clay. 

Later, when I walked into the yard, 

I looked up and saw my father waving at me, 

Standing like an old man 

Cemented in the strong window. 



26 



SILENCE 



One moment before flight, the seagulls long 

To trade their perfect movement, and 

I, in childhood, pitied them. 

Salt tears cripple the wind, r walk 

This standard island where mechanics rule 

Dreams on an empty stencil. How we long 

For movement in this landscape. 



27 



THE MAMMAL IN CAPTIVITY 



He wishes to be remembered 

Not as someone who repeated 

Observances. Not as a poet, 

But as a husband. And when that failed, 

A lover. And when that failed, 

A tourist with a glass shield in his eyes 

Who, for a nickel, took a cruise and saw 

The skyline of Manhattan 

Carved from blue cinder. 

And when that fails, 

He prefers to be remembered as a seal, 

Simply a mammal who endured his life. 

Captivity. Like one of those brown jokers 

In the entrance to the zoo: clowning 

A little, showing off, sunning, a flap 

Of the arms, a lazy snooze, then dive 

From rock to pool. 

Having no alternative: happily tamed to do 

What the mammal in captivity, to save 

His skin, must do. 



28 



II. 



III. 



Do not run to the nearest shelter. Awake. 

Love is cawing. A particular white crow, 

He opens his breast to fly. He dazzles 

Us, then preens. Do not run for the nearest shelter. 

Awake. For love's a 

Black dove all this time. Hairy 

And dull, he will hold anything 

Between his claws 

Preening and devouring our mornings. 



This should have been our mornings: 

Energetic and believable. Sky 

Above our city scratched with beasts, 

Ground coffee before speaking. Books 

On the tables. Cool water and soap, 

And little to be eaten. (Fruit sellers 

Scurrying in the streets.) Dressing, working, 

Answering the doorbell. 

Cleaning. Dusting. Dying. 

Then re-birth in the market ! 

Hoyden things ! A hookah pipe, mixture 

Of melons, artichokes, sausages, fruit 

In every form — rectangles and circles — 

Honey with a spine of wax. Fish 

In a ribbon catch. Dried onions 

And peppers dangling on a line. Centuries 

Of cheese spilling milk. 

I hear you, like a tame seal, 
Barking on a xylophone 
Your theme song: Let me 
Be free one more morning. 



29 



RIVERSIDE DRIVE 



Women who are not alive 

tame from the hearth and ashen husbandry 

cluster on the Drive 

while sun slips in their eyes 

to be forgotten there. They never rise 

from silence on their bench, but ache to whine 

or jump to see the Hudson 

shine her olive fingers on the walls. 

Even a child's plaything — 

a golden hoop — 

will pass their breasts as if they were not women. 

Once, they were known to frighten men of Greece 

back home. In search of sexless peace. 

ii. 

Crossing the Drive 

The nurse told her future: When you grow up 

You 11 be a baboon. 

Her parents pretended they were not happy 

Piled up like rowboats lying on their sides 

And picked themselves up for new boats and correspondents 

And she saw 

Many boarding schools. And dreamt of tugboats. 



30 






Later still, sun. And a kidnap: 

Nothing is as important as a pencil. Write this down. 

At that moment 

Saved by the boy scouts who happened 

To be marching in the hills during 

Her kidnap. New correspondences 

And college. And a battered man, a quack in a hotel 

Room saying When I write 

I never put all my eggs in one basket. Voyages. Birds 

Wore tweed flat hats with tiny beaks. 

She stared, that year, at jawfuls of the sun. 



3i 



FAREWELL TO THE FEDERAL RESERVE BANK 



Suddenly 

I am discharged from my job 

In a dream of numbers. Coins 

Hiss. This is Wall Street: gold 

Bricks glitter. There was a salmon 

In a pack of bills, remember? 

Within the files 

Mr. Frank Organ, chief of the department, 

Said, It is the most important section of the Bank 

When people need it. When people dont need it / 

It is the most forgotten. All written material, 

Memoranda, papers, slips, checks, scribbles, 

Are kept for at least thirty years. 

Mr. Organ supervises over 30,000 boxes 

Of records. None of them get away. 

Look here, Mr. Organ, how the sea glitters! 

Bank of Banks. Goodbye to your coin shelters. 



32 



II. 



Women, mostly fat, 

Mopped the ladies' room, 

And underneath the rest room, 

Beyond the guards holding guns 

Like real cops without robbers, 

Men were burning money. 

They worked hard, all day, burning money, 

Shoveling it into vats. 

Upstairs, a man took a photograph 

In the photograph cubicle. Painters 

Carpenters, cabinet makers, 

Money counters, women sorting checks, 

Women in the Health Department 

And in the Foreign Department, 

And Retirement Counselors, 

And Personnel Counselors, 

And Receptionists, 

Sat above the flames. Arithmetic 

Went on through the bars. 

Beginning tomorrow, elevator 
Men, carpenters, new employees, 
Will have their fingerprints checked. 
Everyone will be inspected before leaving 
The Bank of Banks. 

7 alone have escaped with this poem. 



33 



CANNON HILL 



A farm. A cannon on a hill. 

Long ago I sat beneath that cannon 

And picked clover. Often, at sunset, 

I walked down to the barn, and held my arm 

Around a calf, or took the one-eyed pony for a ride. 

Later, I walked in the forests of corn. 

The stalks were palm-boughs, strands of yellow sun. 

Evenings, I picked tomato vines. 

Earth clung to them, they prickled in my hand. 

And our house was always lit. My grandfather 

Furnished it from his Broadway Theatrical Warehouse. 

Everything only seemed to be what it was: cupboards 

Didn't open, prop tables had three sides, 

Books were cardboard thick, lamps dimmed on, 

Statuettes were paper silhouettes — 

Papier-mache, they seemed to have no weight upon the farm. 

Even the cannon had come home 

From a play about war. It had been in 

A smash hit in which Nazis, like 

Chippewas, lost. There it stood, 

Up on our hill, made out of wood, 

Soggy and warping from the summer rain. 

Cannon Hill Farm was sold. Black 
Out. Nothing works but a kitchen knife. 



34 



MOSAICS 



SPHINXES 



We clawed through Paris 

And said, "Let's be alone 

And talk to the dead." We spoke to Baudelaire. 

Good morning, 

Hookers are gone, 

Artists are all over Montparnasse 

Tinkering with fenders and ice-boxes, 

Creating statues 

That destroy themselves. 

Good morning, grunted Baudelaire, 

How are the ragpickers? The lesbians? The vampires? 

Only art is left, we said. 

And the poets? 

Dead. 

And the hellcats? The dangerous girls? The children 

Tearing maps? The hangmen? The carrion boys 

Swinging in the belfry of their bones? 

All gone. 

And what about the tears of snow? The 

Scratching virgins? The libertines? 

They pose for par is match, we said. 

Paris is dead. 



37 



THE EYES OF FLESH 



My 
father 
dreams 
that I 
shall be 
a wife. 

Setting me 

up in weeds 

outside a 

house where 

beds of flowers 

plunge 

into fertilizer (he 

would plant 

me there) 

with greenish braids 

veined on my 

ivory neck 

twisted above 

blood-checked gingham 

in a knot 

of love. 



38 



All his tears 

fall from 

his glassy rimmed 

spectacles 

to awaken him. 

Father, sleep 

in Jerusalem. 

I hate 

the plastic 

fixtures 

in this place 

where we 

erase 

my childhood. For 

a house 

is where 

deep 

purposes are 

broken 

off. 



39 



ARCHIPELAGO 



This is no Cannibal Isle 

Merely the smile of the toad, 

Merely the gates shining white in the sun 

On the rocks of this virginless isle. 

Orange trees, the coconut, the palm 
Would tear the eyes out of an Englishman 
If he 

dared 

to go 

into the 

ARCHIPELAGO ! 

Orange trees? And coconuts? And palms? 

Come, stalk with me through a wilderness of worms. 

Jump on a Partridge ! 

Jump on a Pelagic Confervae Infusoria (Anima 

Extroria) 

While the spider with an unsymmetrical web 

Offers us a widow's pain. 

Jump on your name ! 

Shame on the Archipelago. Shame on the Archipelago. 
Shame. Shame. 



40 



Let us fall from pride awhile, sip 
Bile of a waterfrog, riverhog, jaguar, 
Kingfish and parrot. Stamp 
Through peat 

And eat cheap with the birds, 
Eat cheap. 

Down the stream of lava, 

Down the stream of penguin-stone 

Home is the Archipelago. Home is the Archipelago. Home. 
Shall we excur 

Shall we excursion to 

Colonial del Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Valparaiso, 

PARADISE? 

They won't tell you 

That the sagacity of mules is unlike the "ignorance of savages.' 

They won't tell you of heavy rain today, 

Strange noise of butterflies, and worms. This is no 

Shell. But orange trees, 

And coconuts, 

And palms 

Scratch the eyes out of an Englishman. 



4i 



TWO SONGS FOR IMPOSSIBLE PEOPLE 



i. Where is Orpheus? 



Where is Orpheus? 

Where is Christ? 

They have gone 

Into icons. And song. 

Into halls of mosaic, 

Into the rot of cherrystone and rock. 

I come into the museum of Byzantium 

Lip to lap 

With gods and face 

Their portraits. 

Where is Orpheus? 

Where is Christ? 

Speak! 

They look down 

From icon frames. 

Christ smiles. 

Orpheus finds his lyre. 

Speak. But all the children 

Stand dumb in the hallways. 



42 



ii. Simon Says 

Simon says Love serves to be greedy. 
Take giant steps. Love serves to be free. 

Bluff. Love is a bandage. Change it each 
Seven years. Blind the old skin. Change it. 
Love when it hurts, heals. An umbrella step: 
Love blind. Fall deep in. Drown. 

Step. Give your world away. 
Stand still. Move. Spin. Take little steps, 
Says Simon who will never see. 
You are out! That's what Simon says. 



43 



THE PARIS ACROPOLIS 

— 36 Rue de Lille 



Arms, hooves, 

Amputated, floating on 

The walls, as they might appear in a dream. 

Subletting the gargantuan 

Paris apartment of Madame 

Foumenille — 36 Rue de Lille — 

We were visitors in her bedroom. What 

Surprised us were murals 

Running in a fdm of white paint: 

Naked men and women clustered on her walls 

Enjoying each other in a bacchanal. 

Caught on the wall, without embarrassment, 

Protruding male organs, buttocks, 

Exaggerated breasts, dismembered heads 

Of— the happy 

Greeks — the gods! 

By our bed, 

A naked man popped out of an oyster shell, 

Over the fireplace, great 

Horses, open-mouthed, with open-mouthed foam, 



44 



Ears flattened to their manes, devoured 

Polite virgins. The furniture 

Raised unnecessary hurdles 

For goddesses. The horse-men 

Had them all. 

The photographs 

On Madame Foumenille's dresser 

Stared at the walls. Watching the Greek 

Seduction from his faded icon frame, a Russian general 

Stuffed his moustache flat against the glass; 

Caught in his deva uniform, 

He blushed, tipsy and aghast, agonized 

By withered gods and goddesses. Our galloping white horses. 



45 



ADAM 



Dripping winters 

Peer from wood-work in this fake Sistine, 

Watch my muscles stretch, 

My fingers rest upon the looking-glass 

Gripping suspect figures. 

Adam in the mirror. Who am I? 

I have not died, but I have seen my soul 

Plunge from ceiling to the bedroom wall, 

And so, when I say death, I mean each time 

I've loved, and could not love, each time I've wept 

And could not reach for something which leapt 

Over death 

Opening up the looking-glass again. 



46 



THIS BLACK KNIGHT 



This black knight inhabits me. He stands 

Stark as iron sculpture. Truly, he is made 

Of wood as tough as iron. I had thought 

Of taking him, my ancient foe, who wins 

By standing where my sex begins. 

I'll capture him. I'll take him down 

From his check-mate of blood. My blood. But he has won. 



47 



ONCE THERE WAS A VENETIAN BLIND 



Venice, you are not 

The image of Narcissus in the water, 

Not a coffee pot boiling 

For a delicate rich finger. You are 

Glass (not the beads, 

Nor the necklace, nor the ashtray, 

Nor the ugly cupids playing with 

Themselves), but you are glass 

Out of the fire, discarded on a beach, 

The surplus of all that is not useful. 

And in Venice I play with words. 

I say Venice the Menace and walk through gardens 

Of alabaster weeds. I say Venice is Venus and stroke 

Angels who twirl around clocks. I say 

Gondola and say Canal 

And shout Giudecca. 

Once there was a Venetian, 
Blind. Blind as a blind could be. She woke up 
In the afternoon reciting poetry. And walked down the streets, 
And fell into a canal, singing I am so damn 
Blind I cant see God at all. 



48 



Angel of meridian, 
Time out of the past, 
Lady fingers, broken strings, 

Unmade kisses in unmade bedrooms, unheld hands in 
Unkept closets, unsaid words to unknown lovers, unknown 
Movies in unknown dreams. 

Once, 
I dreamt through a window over the Hudson, 
I dreamt of the Palisades over the window, 
The window on the one hand, 
The Paradise on the other. And words 

Floating glass from water. 



49 



THOUGHTS OF A MASTER-PUPIL 



I. Song of Years 

Years wear us 

Down. Quartered in our room 

I hear my wife trot to the dining room 

Setting her table while I plan my day. 

This morning is Spring. The sun is out. 

My grandchild's in the park with other foes 

Who ride with him and bind him secretly 

To ancient games of chivalry — 

Our day is played. My enemy calls 

For battle. Or for breakfast. I rise, 

Trot, wait beneath the cressets of our stove 

To feed her with my love. 

ii. Revelations 

One afternoon in the Egyptian zoo 

Two swans arrived. 

I watched them float silently. 

The feathers of one swan had changed 

To a copperhead's green scales. 

I saw the slanted eyes, 

The open tongue, 

Become the swan's slant eyes. 

Swans into white serpents changed. 



50 



in. The Master 



My only pupil met me in the city 
And we spent one afternoon together 
Hid from the scrutiny of summer 
In a quiet park. 

Stuffed in the hub of the universe 
She spoke of adolescence, I, of verse. 

What was first obscure, rippled 
As clear as water around us, 
As leaves. 

And when the white moon came, 
Cracking day and night, 

We found the subway station 

For her train. She took the universe, 

I waved goodbye. 



5i 



LOVE-FAST 



I am hungry for the bakeries, not 

Their bread. I am hungry for the road 

That ran through every country, 

And the tree turning color from the south 

Up to the north. I am hungry for the salt, 

Famished for the shields of odor, 

Flags of color, but I will not eat. 

Flesh, you are going. 

Having given up the taste for meat, 

I have given up the taste for fruit. 

I have given up the taste for cheese. Salads 

And weeds do not tempt me. Thirst is gone. 

— but I'll never find him. 

I'll open my bed for a secret. And 

Hang up my clothes. 

Become an old woman in three days. 



52 



LOVE-FAST II 



I turn a song of rooms, 

My pages are white ceilings filled with light. 

Of all the things inside my room, 

The oak working table, and the bed, 

The books and records, pictures, of it all 

By far the most beautiful 

Is the black music stand. 

The room drifts back 

Into the black iron music stand. 



53 



DAVID 



He lay with his head full of psalms 
Wondering how a boy- 
Could shed his mind 
And kill a giant. 
The battle was set. All the dark 
Night he lay 
Facing the stars and God. 

Am I to die? 

My mind is caught in the strings 

I touched as a child, 

They will not let me arm. 

How shall I begin 

To think of the battle, a way 

To fight? 

His songs remained 

And kept him company. 

When the armies were set, and 
Goliath stood in that place 
Where he knew the battle must be, 
David turned all songs to a stone 
And overthrew the flesh. 



54 



GRIEF 



A fireman enters. He entertains us 

With his water-gun, struts around the building, 

Warns us not to "use the incinerator." 

"What shall we use?" 

The fireman enters the flame, 

The buildings burn. He waves inside the ruins. 



ii. 



I placed inside my hair, 

After the flames, 

Three peacock feathers, each 

With a perfect quill. 

I know they will change with the color of morning light 

As eyes take on new colors when we cry. 

I placed inside my hair 

A new eyesight. The peacock walks my forehead as I lie 

Alone. 



in. 



Grief enters new cities on 

A match-stick. 

Grief's in the garage, Grief's in 

The windshield; Grief 

Is the fireman. 



55 



THE DIAMOND NEEDLE 



After she left 
With long- 
Playing phonograph records, 
She took another look, 
And finding nothing, 

escaped. 

She carried her notes. 

And they spoke back, 

Like the Duckbill Platypus 

Under her arm, with an ancient 

Quack, Quack, this secret language 

Placed in the past 

Beyond time and origin, a skin 

Stretched out, or a name 

That, after all, was her own. 

On the way, she realized, with 
Some alarm, that she had forgotten 
The diamond needle it was 
To be played back on. 

Sneaking back to the Prodigal 

Country, in the guise of an animal, 

She wrenched the needle from the mechanical 

Arm of a phonograph marked 

Property of the Library of Congress 

United States Government, 

Division for the Blind, 



56 



The needle was perfect, though used before 

By someone who had stopped there. 

She glanced at the library's 

Vault, a great machine 

That played with time and space. Voices 

Of the writers of her time 

Were kept there in capsules, like diet pills 

Called Bestiana or Preludin, very desirable 

For taking off weight, or like those tiny capsules 

Of hair color that turn gray hair yellow 

When broken on the head after shampoo. 

These notes (she read) 
Will remain. Unopened 
For the millennium. 



SI 



DIVERS 



We have chosen the sea 

Because we are lonely 

And resemble 

All things that go down. 

Sucking the sun 

In our silver-finned sea-chests, 

We leave antennae touching the sky, 

We plummet 

In the great hives of water. 

Che far a Euridice? 

Go, bleed the waves 

And find the blue jail of Euridice. 

The sea-blades wind her fingers in the salt. 

(There is no bottom chamber to the sea.) 
Find on the tips of waves that drifting face. 



58 



THE DEATH OF JOAN 



In the ice-box infirmary 

Everything is white. 

Now and then 

A woman saint is born. Foundress of nothing, 

She sobs after unattained goodness, 

Burns in her weariness, 

Trembles among the fever trees, 

Squats all morning, 

Suffering for the long recognizable deed, 

Sees berry bushes on The Commons bleed. 

In the college infirmary 

You, Joan, were a wild woman Cossack 

Re-reading Anna Karenina 

And chewing on a little ball of fur. 

I read: St. Theresa, a child beast, went out for a walk. 
She walked with her brothers into the country of moors. 

Saints are through, you said. 

I said: St. Theresa's passionate nature 
Demanded an epic life. 

So does everyone's, you said, 
And I'll take my life. 

Joan Joan Joan 



59 



ELEGIES OF A VIRGIN 



"Doctor, voices appear to me in forms 

Human and desperate, each in its own body 

Bending, running tip-toe on a screen 

As if in bed. Do you know what I mean? 

Sounds in cushions, silent-movie frames, 

Words, naked in Alphabet: alphabet forms: 

Y's and W's open-armed, 

I's and B's kissing with huge lips — 

The camera shifts to J's and B's as black R 

Clinches white. 

Doctor, 
I'd like to be a film-maker 
Shooting naked letters — hidden under 
The pillow, through a mesh of swan 
And ticking — caught, you know, by the arm: 
Close up. But there is nothing new — 
Silence, and leisure — " 



60 



II. 



III. 



"In solitude one knows the maxims of the body: 
Neon light — over the belly — 
The first maxim: 

If you cannot love 
Unhook your arms. 
Lit by a flashlight: 

If you cannot love 
Unhook your head." 



She sleeps in a bed 

Of sweat 

Completely vertical 

Wondering how things 

Will turn out at her funeral. Her 

Death is simple and unfortunate. 

This was her diary as a virgin: 
"Reading the life of Anna Pavlova 
Studiously in the tub, 
I wonder if love is the same sensation 
As the bathwater's flowing motion." 



61 



I LIVE WITH SOLOMON 



My love after a long journey comes home. 

Wrists of time move as they moved before, 

Time pounds on the window and pounds again 

And what seems like time is only the rain. 

Left with our harvest of salad and Greek vermouth 

We hide in the kitchen. An ivory snake's tooth 

Is in the kitchen stove, and cubes of ice; 

Dinner is all we have left of Paradise. 

Adam and Eve inside us died, 

Angry shadows on the window pane. 

I scrape death from the black spots of a radish. 



62 



MOSAICS 



It's all mosaics now: 

Blue socks, yellow shirts, brown slacks, 

Blonde hair, the oriental lamp 

That came from Turkey inside out. 

It's all mosaics now: 

Orange socks, argyle hats, 

Bluejackets, green slips, 

Brown trousers lined with stripes, 

Give me the coral jacket I gave you. 

Tonight it's a red coat and a black comb, 

And a fan, and? 

Velvet hats, yellow broom, 

Pink cleaning rags, 

Purple kitchen, 

Yellow bird, 

All our separations are colors. 

Street in Paris, 
Streets in Rome, 

'I'm always safe under your arm." Gray 
Shoes, green scarf, 

"I'm going to look for a newspaper and . . .' 
"What is it you've got on?" 
It's all mosaics now. 



63 



EROS AND HER BROTHER 
— 5 Rue d' Alger 



Eros and her brother lived 

In a house that was not a house, 

Slept in a bed 

That was not a bed, 

Found a maid that was not a maid 

But a monster called Agape. 

And they lived this way: Agape 

Wore black skirts, white aprons 

Stiff as linoleum, and collected American 

Stamps from Eros. Agape preferred stamps 

With white portraits of Abraham Lincoln 

Pressed like a cameo against a pink background 

And took 

Stamps home to her chamber of maids 
Where she cared for two children of her 
Own. Look, children! she would say in Great 
French, and they would press the stamps 
Against their foreheads and pretend 
They were sending themselves to America. 

Eros and her brother, who was not 
Her brother but her husband, could not 

Sleep. Eros awoke and said, Listen! I hear 

A terrible noise in my love-ear. Outside 

Our window there's a fallout of 

atoms, airplanes, automobiles, 

And clanging ashcans. (Everything deadly 



64 



Began with an A.) After that, 

The cave blew up. Agape collected her stamps 

And ran home. The bed rocked to splinters 

And out of the splinters rolled Eros 

And her brother. Rolled into the street. Out 

Of the street into the earth. Merdel 

Screamed Agape. I feel the loneliness of 

Their dreams in mine. 



65 



THE HAIRBRUSH 



In the end 

There will be nothing but a hairbrush. 

I shall find the bristles to be soft. Brush 

My hair, and with my hair my mind 

And unknown cavities of water. 

I shall brush and tease. Until pools of memory 

Are like all strands of hair: soft, 

So clean, or singed. 



66 






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